March 29, 2020

Review: The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder

A sci-fi classic!

Alt-history Steampunk has never been hotter. We recently finished up the fifth book in a brilliant science fiction series courtesy of Pyr Books.  We’re talking about The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder, out earlier this month. This is the fifth and (final?) book in the outstanding Burton and Swinburne series. We’ve chronicled our addiction to this series in the past, starting with The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack up through The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon and The Secret of El Yezdi

The Return of the Discontinued Man is an appropriate coda for the award winning saga. What I particularly like about the series is the meticulous attention paid to history from our own timeline that’s thrown into the alternate Victorian reality depicted, with tales and incidents that often send us researching as we read the novels.   All of the familiar Steampunk elements, such as Babbage devices, the Battersea Power Station and an army of time-travelling Spring-Heeled Jacks are back as well as a few new characters and twists. And hey, to our knowledge, it’s the first time that real life characters such as the “mad monk” Rasputin and H.G. Wells (ironically, of War of the Worlds and The Time Machine fame) have entered the steampunk pantheon.

And of course, the real life Richard Burton was a colorful character and world traveler in his own right, a fitting action hero.

The Return of the Discontinued Man takes our heroes hopping through time forward into the future after a series of attacks by the nefarious Spring-Heeled Jack. This leads our intrepid explorers on an expedition forward through alternate timelines as Burton suffers from strange visions. Some offer nightmare-ish visions of a British Empire that could’ve been, while others, such as their stopover in the psychedelic 1960s are downright hilarious.  It’s a clash of Victorian sensibilities meets Haight-Ashbury hipsters!

And speaking of which, the Burton and Swinburne series does touch on something that much of the Steampunk genre fails to address: wouldn’t the advent of an early computer era also trickle down to change the social mores and constructs of the day? Perhaps, a social revolution might’ve occurred in the 1860s instead of the 1960s…

The final futuristic showdown is fitting for the series, though we won’t intercede with any spoilers as to the outcome. Suffice to say, we’d love to see the Burton and Swinburne saga get picked up as a TV or movie series for development. Seriously, it’s that good. And judging from what we’ve seen at science fiction conventions, there’s a HUGE interest in steampunk, which is a bit curious as the genre cries out for a true flagship Star Wars/Star Trek type series. Could The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack be it? Are you listening, SyFy?

Next up, we’ve finally caught up on our reading back log (for now) and have been reading and thoroughly enjoying Andy Weir’s novel The Martian

More to come!

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